Albany, City of the Bald?

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1862 Schenectady Directory Hair Restorer

If you believe what Professor Henry A. DeMunn had to say in 1862 (and I demand to know the provenance of his doctoral degree), that he had been working for a year and a half with the worst cases of baldness to be found “in this or any other country,” then you have to wonder just what was going on in our fair city that caused such aggressive hair loss. Legislative stresses? Kerosene in the drinking water? The establishment of an alopecia colony? No clue is given, nor does he make clear whether his dollar-a-bottle hair restorer was to be applied to the head or taken as a tonic — a common enough approach that, if amply fortified, would help the user to forget the dollar he had spent.

The stretch of Orange Street where the Professor once practiced his scientific endeavors is long gone under the I-787 on-ramp. He boarded at 35 Van Schaick, where he listed his profession as “hair restorer.”

Light fixtures at war prices!

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1862 Schenectady Directory Edwards gas fittings

I’ll admit that I’m not sure whether “war prices” were a good thing when John A. Edwards took out this ad in 1862’s Schenectady directory. This was the golden age of gas lighting. But while he was fitting your pipes, you might as well get him to hang your door bell in the most substantial manner and at short notice. Door bell emergencies were nothing unusual to him.

Not sure, either, what the Old Stand was, but Centre Street in Schenectady  is now Broadway, of course.

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German dailies in Albany

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German papers in Albany 1905.png

Considering that Albany has been a one-newspaper city for more than 20  years (with some fringe elements clinging stubbornly to the superior quality of the Daily Gazette or the Sound-Off column of the Troy Record), it’s amazing to think of all the decades when the city had anywhere between five and eight daily papers, and even more amazing to think that in 1905, two of them were in German. The Albany Freie Blaetter lasted from 1852 until 1912; the Taeglicher Herold started in 1869. The Sonntags Journal began in 1884 as an independent weekly and was eventually merged with the Herold.

The State Library has a decent listing of the many, many Albany newspapers that are available on microfilm; we can only hope that someday they’ll be digitized.

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Albany Imperial XX Ales

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John Taylor brewery

I have some doubts as to whether this 1857 view of John Taylor & Sons’ brewery operations, where they made Albany Imperial XX Ales, was from Albany or perhaps their New York or Boston depots, both of which were also on the waterfront. The brewery was at Broadway and Arch Streets, but the back side aligned with Quay Street, right along the river, so it’s possible this view is of Albany. It’d be easier to be sure if I could identify those church steeples in the background, but that area is so changed.

Albany, again because of its important location in the mid-19th century, was one of the early beer capitals, exporting beer and ale at a time when it was mostly locally brewed. There is much more on Albany ales here.

C. Wendell, Book and Job Printing

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C Wendell printing.png

C. Wendell’s printing office over Apothecaries Hall was at the central Albany location, the corner of Pearl and State. Across from the legendary Elm Tree Corner, which I just have to write about some day, the northeast corner was known as Lydius Corner, for old resident Balthazar Lydius, whose residence stood there until replaced by the Apothecaries Hall in 1832. Wendell was for some years the legislative printer, but so far I haven’t learned much else about his firm.

Eagle Air Furnace, the temperance furnace!

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Eagle Air FurnaceA little less nifty looking than the Ransom & Rathbone Stove-Works, the Eagle Air Furnace also made stoves and other iron castings somewhere on Beaver Street.

Like its competitor, The Temperance Furnace, the Eagle was a temperance furnace. In 1832, the New York State Temperance Society championed the Eagle’s anti-drink stance and clearly connected its decision not to ply its workers with strong drink to the lack of incidence of cholera at the works:

Temperance and regular attention to business the best preventives of Cholera.

Although experience teaches us that the temperate and the regular are not wholly exempted from the ravages of cholera, there is abundant evidence to prove that they are by far the safest, and indeed that the sickness and death among such, is but little if any more than in ordinary seasons. In confirmation of this, the following statement in made:

Tho Eagle Air Furnace in this city, conducted by Messrs. Many & Ward, is situated in Beaver-street, within a few rods of the Centre Hospital, in which, during six weeks past, have constantly been from ten to twenty persons sick and dying of the cholera, and also in the immediate vicinity of Howard-street and the Centre Market, where numerous deaths have taken place. There are thirty men constantly employed in this furnace, and these with their families number 116 persons and occupy 19 tenements. Not a drop of strong drink of any description is furnished to the men or permitted to be used in the furnace, and but few of the men are in the habit of drinking at all out of the furnace, and these few but very little. The business of this establishment has not had a moment’s interruption since the cholera made its appearance among us; both the principals and every person in their employ having continued regularly to discharge their duties as at other times. Not a death has occurred among the workmen, nor in their families, and there has been no sickness worth naming of any description. The premonitory symptoms of cholera have hardly made their appearance. One man lost four days and another three in consequence of diarrhoea, and it was ascertained that both these individuals had been induced to use quack medicine as a preventive. Several other establishments in this city might be named, in various branches of business, where a similar course has been pursued, and with similar results.

The champions of temperance were not alone in 1832 of failing to understand that bad drinking water was the source of the cholera bacterium, and that in fact alcoholic beverages might have been safer than contaminated well water during an outbreak. But anything to make a point.

In addition to stoves, the Eagle also had on hand potash kettles, bark mills, large and small caldrons, and “a constant supply of Liverpool and Virginia coal, for family and smith’s use.” There’s a lovely billhead from the Eagle online here.

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Ransom & Rathbone Stove-Works

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Ransom and Rathbone Stove Works
Albany and Troy were once the stove capitals of the United States. The growth of iron works and the ability to transport goods by river, canal and, later, rail positioned the cities perfectly for the time when growing wealth in the expanding nation meant more and more homes heated and cooked with stoves rather than an inefficient open hearth. One study found that over the 130 year history of the stove industry here, there were 349 recorded manufacturers in the two cities. Ransom & Rathbone was one of the larger enterprises, which operated under a multitude of names from its establishment in 1830 as Hermance, Rathbone & Co. Eventually Ransom and Rathbone went their separate ways, creating two separate companies. Rathbone’s cupola furnace was one of the first in the country for making stove castings, and by 1883 it was melting 90 tons of iron a day, producing 75,000 stoves a year. It employed 1350 men at that point.

Among the other stove companies in Albany: McCoy & Quackenboss, Learned & Thacher (guess who the intersecting streets were named for), The Albany Co-Operative Stove Company, and the Temperance Furnace. The Albany Institute of History and Art occasionally shows its fine collection of Albany- and Troy-built stoves.

For more on the location of the Ransom works, click here.

Media market, 1844

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Newspapers Published in Albany 1844

In the 1840s, Albany was the ninth most populous city in the nation. Its position at the terminus of the Erie Canal made it a vital connection between the growing west and the cities of the Eastern seaboard. Local politicians played an outsized role in national policy, and as has been noted before, there was very little on offer in Boston or New York that couldn’t also be found within a few blocks of Broadway in Albany.

Though it was a big city, there were only 15,000 people living here (the entire county was only 33,000 people). And yet there were at that time six daily newspapers and a smattering of less frequent publications. Of those, two had exceptional longevity. The Albany Argus, first published in the Exchange Building (still standing at Broadway and State) moved to its own building in the newspaper district, just off the market, which is also still standing. Begun as a semiweekly in 1813, it went daily in 1824 and ran until 1921. For a time, publisher Crowell served as State Printer, a notable plum and an irritation to rival publisher/politician Thurlow Weed. Even after the paper ceased publication, the printing part of the business continued further up Broadway in a magnificent Marcus Reynolds building that stands today waiting for reuse. (The building is currently on Historic Albany Foundation’s Endangered Historic Resources List.)

The Albany Evening Journal is no less storied, and also left a mark on Albany architecture — the southern end of the SUNY Administration Building was originally the home of the Evening Journal, and is decorated with notable names from the history of printing. I can’t do justice to Thurlow Weed in just a few paragraphs — his role in the formation of the Republican Party and the nomination of Abraham Lincoln is worth a chapter itself. He was an old-school party boss and kingmaker who ran his newspaper as a party organ, the way it was done in those days. In addition, Samuel F.B. Morse asserted that the Evening Journal first proposed the word “telegram” to describe his new form of communication in 1852. Many articles that attained national prominence were first published in the Albany Evening Journal. The paper ran from 1830 to about 1925, when it merged with the newer Evening News and, I believe, only lasted a short time after that.

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Joseph Gall, Optician

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Joseph Gall Optician

Conveniently located opposite the bath house, Joseph Gall (J.G. to his continental friends) was another merchant of the “respectfully informing” school. Now I would expect that an optician of the day would, as indicated, have on hand gold and silver spectacles, and that he would attend to repair every optical instrument, and that he would direct his particular attention to the construction and adaptation of spectacles for the various defects of the vision. And okay, perhaps thermometers and barometers are a little out there, but he is a man of science and instrumentation, so perhaps that wasn’t an unusual sideline for an optician. But sacarometers? I’ll admit, I had to look that one up. And if in 1844 sacarometers were being used, as Wikipedia would indicate, primarily by winemakers and brewers to measure sugar in solution, then perhaps J.G. was attending both to permanent and more transient defects of vision.

What is this spam of which you speak?

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It may well be that back in Mrs. Dundon’s day, if you wanted to pollute a neighborhood with a commercial message, you needed cash to buy the paste. But spam, unbelievably, is free. At least to the sender. To those of us who manage multiple websites, it eats up a surprising amount of our time and attention. I check on my comments a number of ways, depending on which is convenient, so every time I get a pending comment that’s spam, I get it on my site, through an RSS feed, and through email. And then I have to clear it from all those pathways. Well, lately the bills being posted have been voluminous, even more annoying than usual, and they’re taking up a lot of my time. So for a little while at least, I’m having to turn off comments here on Hoxsie.Like the schoolmarm said, it’s a shame a few bad apples have to ruin it for everybody.

I’ll put them back up in a couple of weeks and see if the attacks stop, but for now if you have something to say and want to reach me, click on the “Contact Me” link.

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